Fans charged in Egypt’s deadliest soccer riot declared their innocence in the first session of their trial on Tuesday, directing their anger toward police, charged with collaborating in the killing of 75 supporters of a rival team.
Nine senior officers, including six police generals and a colonel, are among the 73 people charged in the case. The officers were present in the courtroom, dressed in traditional white defendant uniforms, but they were not held in the courtroom cage with the rest of those on trial.
If the police are convicted, it would further fuel widespread speculation that the country’s much-despised Ministry of the Interior force allowed the bloody Feb. 1 attack on fans of a soccer club with which they have a long antagonistic history.
Most of the defendants are fans of al-Masry, the main sports club in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, where the attack took place.
The majority of the victims were fans of a rival team, Cairo’s al-Ahly, whose supporters are credited with playing a major role in the 18-day popular uprising that toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year.
Survivors of the attack charge that police allowed the attack by al-Masry fans to deteriorate into bloodshed. Others have suggested that former regime loyalists hired thugs to infiltrate the stadium and kill al-Ahly fans.
“We will get them their justice or die like them,” the defendants in the courtroom cage shouted, fists pumping in the air as they referred to those killed in the riots.
Outside the courtroom, hundreds of al-Ahly fans held photos of those killed and raised posters that said: “I will never forget justice for our brothers.”
The 30-minute killing frenzy in Port Said broke out when al-Masry fans stormed the field just seconds after the final whistle blew, even though the home team won the match.
What happened next is not entirely clear, but according to witnesses and survivors, al-Ahly fans were attacked with batons, knives, fireworks and other weapons. Some were tossed from the tops of bleachers.
The lights at the stadium were abruptly turned off and the exit doors closed during the chaos, forcing a stampede down a narrow corridor. The stadium gate, which was locked from the outside, was forced open by the crowd. Dozens were crushed to death there.